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Temple Church
The Temple Church in 1892, by Herbert Railton
The Temple Church in 1892, by Herbert Railton

Country England
Denomination Church of England

The Temple Church is a late 12th century church in London located between Fleet Street and the River Thames, built for and by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters. In modern times, two Inns of Court (Inner Temple and Middle Temple) both use the church. It is famous for its effigy tombs and for being a round church. It was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored. The area around the Temple Church is known as the Temple and nearby is Temple Bar and Temple tube station, all derive their name from the church.





In the mid 12th century, before the construction of the church, the Knights Templar in London had met at a site in High Holborn in a structure originally established by Hughes de Payens (the site had been historically the location of a Roman temple in Londinium). Because of the rapid growth of the order, by the 1160s the site had become too confined, and the Order purchased the current site for the establishment of a larger monastic complex as their headquarters in England. In addition to the church, the new compound originally contained residences, military training facilities, and recreational grounds for the military brethren and novices, who were not permitted to go into the city without the permission of the Master of the Temple.

The church building comprises two separate sections. The original nave section, called the Round Church, and an adjoining rectangular section, built approximately half a century later, called the Chancel. In keeping with the traditions of the order, the nave of the church was constructed on a round design based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The nave is 55 feet in diameter, and is surrounded by the first-ever free-standing dark Purbeck Marble columns. It is probable that the walls and grotesque heads were originally painted in colours.

It was consecrated on February 10, 1185 in a ceremony by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is believed that Henry II was present at the consecration.


The Knights Templar order was very powerful in England, with the Master of the Temple sitting in parliament as primus baro (the first baron of the realm). The compound was regularly used as a residence by kings and by legates of the Pope. The Temple also served as an early depository bank, sometimes in defiance of the Crown's wishes to seize the funds of nobles who had entrusted their wealth there. The independence and wealth of the order throughout Europe is considered by most historians to have been the primary cause of its eventual downfall.

In January 1215 William Marshall (who is buried in the nave next to his sons, under one of the 9 marble effigies of medieval knights there) served as a negotiator during a meeting in the Temple between King John and the barons, who demanded that John uphold the rights enshrined the Coronation Charter of his predecessor Richard I. William swore on behalf of the king that the grievances of the barons would be addressed in the summer, leading to John's signing of Magna Carta in June.

William later became regent during the reign of John's son, Henry III. Henry later expressed a desire to be buried in the church and so, in the early 13th century, the choir of the original church was pulled down and a new larger structure, now called the Chancel, was built. It was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240 and comprises a central aisle and two side aisles of identical width. The height of the vault is 36 feet 3 inches. One of Henry's sons, who died in infancy, is buried in the Chancel, but Henry later altered his will with instructions to be interred in Westminster Abbey.

Crown seizure

After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in 1307, Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It was later given to the Knights Hospitaller, who rented the Temple to two colleges of lawyers. One college moved into the part of the Temple previously used by the Temple's knights, and the other into the part previously used by its priests, and they shared the use of the church. The colleges evolved into the Inner and Middle Temples, two of the four Inns of Court (the other two being Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn).

16th–19th centuries

The interior of the Round Church in the early 19th century.

In 1540, the church became the property of The Crown once again when Henry VIII abolished the Knights Hospitaller in England and confiscated their property. Henry provided a priest for the church under the former title "Master of the Temple". In the 1580s, the church was the scene of the Battle of the Pulpits, a theological conflict between Calvinists and supporters of the Church of England. At that time, William Shakespeare also knew it and hence, in his play Henry VI, part 1, it and the Temple garden feature as the setting for the fictional scene of the plucking of two roses and the start of the 15th century Wars of the Roses. In 2002, this was commemorated with the planting of new white and red roses in the modern gardens.

Following a later agreement in 1608 by James I, the two Inns were granted the use of the church in perpetuity, and continue to use the Temple as their chapel, on condition that they supported and maintained the church.

The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Nevertheless, it was refurbished by Christopher Wren, who made extensive modifications to the interior, including an altar screen and the introduction of an organ to the church for the first time. The church was restored again in 1841 by Smirke and Burton, who decorated the walls and ceiling in the high Victorian Gothic style, in an attempt to bring the church back to its original appearance. Further restoration work was executed by James Piers St Aubyn in 1862.

An 1827 woodcut of The Temple Church.

Second World War

On May 10, 1941, a German air raid of incendiary bombs set the roof of the Round Church on fire,[1] and the fire quickly spread to the nave and chapel. The organ and all the wood parts of the church, including the Victorian renovations, were destroyed and the dark Purbeck marble columns of the Chancel cracked from the intense heat. Although these columns still supported the vault, they were deemed unsound and replaced by replicas. The original columns had a light outward lean, an architectural quirk which was duplicated in the replacement columns.

During the renovation by the architect Walter Godfrey, it was discovered that the renovations made by Wren in the 17th century were in storage and they were replaced in their original position. The church was rededicated in November 1958[2].

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[3]


The Temple Church today.

Among other purposes, the structure was originally used for Templar initiation ceremonies. In England, the ceremony involved new recruits entering the Temple via the western door at dawn. The initiates would enter the circular nave, and then take monastic vows of piety, chastity, poverty and obedience. The details of initiation at the time were a closely-guarded secret, though this secrecy later caused trouble as gossip and rumours spread about possible Templar blasphemy. These suspicions were manipulated and expanded by the Order's enemies, such as King Philip IV of France.

The Temple Church holds regular church services, including Holy Communion and Mattins on Sunday morning. It also holds weddings, but only for members of the Inner and Middle Temples. The Temple Church serves both the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple as a private chapel.

The Temple Church has always been a royal peculiar, and the choristers have the privilege of wearing scarlet cassocks as a result. This means that it is subject to the jurisdiction of the Crown, and not of the Bishop of London. Modern-day relations with the Bishop of London are, however, very good; he regularly attends events and services at the Temple Church. The Bishop of London is also ex officio the Dean of the Chapels Royal.

Marble effigies of medieval knights in the Temple Church.

In The Da Vinci Code

The church was featured in the controversial popular novel The Da Vinci Code by American author Dan Brown and was also used as a location in the The Da Vinci Code film[4]. The release of doves in the round church in the film relate to Ernest Lough's (the most famous boy soprano to come from Temple Church) recording of "O for the wings of a dove".

Recent lunchtime talks by the present Master (Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones) have been on the subject of the Templars and the church's role in the novel, and he has published a book on the same topic.

Music at the Temple Church

The organ in the Temple Church.

The church offers regular choral music performances and organ recitals. A choir in the English cathedral tradition was established at the Temple Church in 1842 under the direction of Dr. E. J. Hopkins, and it soon earned a high reputation.

In 1927, the Temple Choir under George Thalben-Ball became world famous with its recording of Mendelssohn's Hear my Prayer, including the solo "O for the Wings of a Dove" sung by Ernest Lough. This became one of the most popular recordings by a church choir of all time, and it sold strongly throughout the twentieth century, reaching gold disc status (a million copies) in 1962 and achieving an estimated 6 million sales to date.

The choir continues to record, broadcast and perform, in addition to its regular services at the Temple Church. It is an all-male choir, consisting of 18 boys who are all educated on generous scholarships (most of the boys attend the City of London School although the scholarship is portable) and 12 professional men. They perform weekly at Sunday services, 11:15-12:15 PM, during term time. The choir gave the world premiere of Sir John Tavener's epic "The Veil of the Temple", which took place over seven hours during an overnight vigil in the Temple Church in 2003. The following year it was performed by the choir at the Lincoln Festival in New York; a concert version was performed at the BBC Proms the same year. Two new recordings will be available in 2010 both on the Signum label: one of the Temple Church Choir, and a recording of english organ music played by James Vivian.

The Temple Church's excellent acoustics have also attracted secular musicians: Sir John Barbirolli recorded a famous performance of the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams there in 1962 (at the suggestion of Bernard Herrmann), and Paul Tortelier made his recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites there in 1983.


The church contains two organs: a chamber organ built by Robin Jennings in 2001, and a four manual Harrison & Harrison organ. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.

The Harrison organ will be completely renovated from July 2011 until Easter 2013. It will be removed from the church and taken to Harrison's workshop in Durham where it will be thoroughly repaired and cleaned. A temporary organ will be installed in the interim. For more details, please refer to the official websites listed below for the church and for Temple Music.

List of organists

It has had a number of famous organists, including

  • Francis Pigott 1688 - 1704
  • John Pigott 1704 - 1737 (from 1729 for Middle Temple only)

Inner Temple

Middle Temple

  • John Pigott 1729 - 1737
  • James Vincent 1737 - 1749
  • John Jones 1749 - 1796
  • Emily Dowding 1796 - 1814

(from 1814 for both Inner and Middle Temple)

Master of the Temple

The church always has two clergy, called the "Master of the Temple" and the "Reader of the Temple" respectively. The title of the Master of the Temple recalls the title of the head of the former order of the Knights Templar. The present Master of the Temple is the Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, appointed in 1999. The Master gives regular lunchtime talks open to the public.

The official title of the Master of the Temple is the "Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple"; this is not used on the Who's Who page of the official website or the Services page, but is confirmed by the Middle Temple website (see [1]), and has been used by the current Master in interviews (see [2] and [3]).

List of recent Masters of the Temple

Buried in the church

See also


  1. ^ "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London, Batsford, 1942
  2. ^ "London:the City Churches” Pevsner,N/Bradley,S New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  3. ^ Images of England — details from listed building database (199532) accessed 23 January 2009
  4. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′47.52″N 0°06′37.44″W / 51.5132°N 0.1104°W / 51.5132; -0.1104


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